In Search of a Serious Strategy for Syria
Harry C. Blaney III
The G-8 and NATO summits are over and one conclusion that can be made is that at least in public there was no specific or concrete action taken to deal with the serious conflict and civil war (there can be no other word for it) in Syria. Further, this unrest and strife in Syria has already had trans-border impacts on Turkey (conflict on its border with Syria), and Lebanon demonstrated by the domestic violence between supporters of the opposition and those of Assad. The roles of Iran, Russia and China have also complicated the options for stopping the killing.
Sadly, the Washington Post editorial “NATO’s Blind Spot on Intervention in Syria” (May 22, 2012), that was decidedly superficial, argued that NATO should act militarily in Syria. The odd and contradictory Washington Post editorial stated that “NATO could support the Syrian opposition without putting its own troops at risk.”
This editorial gave no real analysis of the consequences of such a military strategy or the viability and direction of the Syrian opposition. Furthermore, the editorial did not address whether such an effort is viable or likely to succeed and did not consider the possible cost in human lives from such a strategy. The editorial board failed to indicate who exactly would act, what kind of military support would be given, how to deal with the Syrian army, and how long the military intervention would last. Nor did they address the cost of such a strategy to NATO allies or who exactly would bear the burden. Further possible risks of NATO military action include opposition and intervention against such an act on the part of Iran and other state actors including Russia. In dealing with the question of post-conflict peacekeeping, it is of great importance to implement a plan that would keep the warring parties apart and prevent reprisals and domestic revenge. In doing so, it is necessary to identify for just how long this process would be needed, and finally, how a truly democratic governance authority would be established that would protect human rights and civil liberties of the entire population in this post conflict period.
The most recent UN report on human rights violations accused both the Syrian regime and the opposition of unlawful and violent action including killings of civilians. This report underscores the need to look at the whole landscape and prepare a comprehensive approach with needed forces and resources and a strategy that does more good than harm in the long run.
Now let me be clear, I have in this forum urged action by the international community. We should not stand by and do nothing while large numbers of people are being killed. It seems, sadly, that neither the UN Security Council nor NATO is prepared, given the need of both for unanimity, to take on the difficult and complex Syria horror. As I noted in a previous post, the NATO Summit ended without taking a stand on Syria. NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said that the alliance has “no intention whatsoever to intervene.” Don’t blame NATO for failing to act, blame those unnamed members who opposed any serious Syrian action. The same goes for the UN.
The only other forum for action is the “Friends of Syria” in which we participate and help lead but which so far has remained in a state of inaction. Yet this is the most likely path to follow since it includes both the Arab League and Arab and Islamic states that are not only the best forces to act on the ground but also have the resources to pay for intervention efforts and the rebuilding of Syria post-conflict. But they lack certain capabilities as demonstrated in the case of Libya. Here, NATO and other advanced nations can help with specialized tasks to support this forum. Will they even agree on this?
What still lacks is the political will. America, the European nations, and the key Arab states must join in a “coalition of the willing” to support a reconstructed opposition that needs to be prodded into a unified, responsible, and fully representative alliance. The Syrian opposition must be clearly committed to a peaceful and broad national government with democratic aims and human rights guarantees – something that can only be achieved with the support of this “coalition of the willing”. This is a task for diplomacy and for a bit of carrots and not a few sticks too.